The photograph above is from our World Scholars Program (WSP) trip in June to the Dominican Republic. If I think about it, and as the new school year begins, I truly had an amazing summer. I feel so blessed and grateful. This picture, taken by @alyssaschukar, captures by far my best day of the entire summer and year easily. As I am overwhelmed with how I am going to pay bills, get my classroom together, finish lesson plans, and all the other tasks that seem so gigantic, this picture reminds me to put life into perspective. Yes, those are all important things, but when coupled with the other little stuff that trips me up all too often, they are still insignificant when compared with all that I have to be grateful for, which is abundant. If these beautiful humans whom I met that sweltering day at the dump can be genuinely joyful with next to nothing, who am I to be ungrateful with my many things?
We were paired with one of the workers, our partner was Donaldson, a nine-year-old Haitian immigrant who works at the dump with his 60 year old grandmother. We helped them collect tin and plastic. We were equipped with gloves and boots while he only wore sandals and had bare hands as we walked over tampon applicators, dirty diapers, sanitary items, maggots, and other discarded items. I would be lying if I said I jumped right into the task. Having my students there forced me to set an example, so I pushed through, beginning slowly as I talked with Donaldson and listened to his stories. Mutual smiles began to emerge and feelings of pity for him/them went away as I began to realize that spending time with family and friends—whether in work or play—makes life better. Accumulation of material things—more stuff that may eventually end up at a dump—does not make you happy. Community and solidarity is what supports, nourishes, and sustains happiness.
Not only did this day teach me about true happiness, but it also showed me how utterly wasteful I am. As I walked through the dump, stepping over plastic and garbage of all sorts, I realized that this is where it all ends up. All that stuff I thought I needed so badly ends up right there as trash. I did not become the greenest person alive or the happiest and most loving after that day; however, watching kids and adults of all ages play and smile and work hard and take pride in their work (despite the circumstances) sent millions of arrows through my heart and inspired me to want to be more like them…and less like me. That’s it really. So when I catch myself slipping into wastefulness or indulging in “first world problems,” I have this moment to bring back into focus what is truly important. Some people, like my own grandmother, get it without examples. Nevertheless, I am so grateful for this day and transformative learning experience because I’m just the kind of girl who needs a big fat reminder sometimes.